Movie Essays - Jane Campion's Film of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady
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Jane Campion's Film Version of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady
Jane Campion's film version of Henry James's novel, The Portrait of a Lady, offers the viewer a sexually charged narrative of a young naive American girl in Victorian era Europe.
James's novel focuses on "what an exciting inward life may do for the person leading it even while it [a person's life] remains perfectly normal" (James 54). James could not or would not place into his narrative the sexual thoughts, suggestions, and actions of his characters beyond the first flush of the experience. For example, when Caspar takes Isabel into his arms and kisses her near the close of the novel, Isabel does express sexuality, but that sexuality is short lived:
He glared at her a moment through the dusk, and the next instant she felt his arms about
her and his lips on her lips. His kiss was like white lightening, a flash that spread, and spread again, and stayed; and it was extraordinary as if, while she took it, she felt each thing in his hard manhood that had least pleased her, each aggressive fact of his face, his figure, his presence, justified of its intense identity and made one with this act of possession. (James 636)
This passage, like every other passage in the novel, that deals with male-female touching or kissing ends as it is read. James does not allow his characters to recall their sexuality. Dorothea Krook points out: "To speak of James's "treatment" of the sexual theme in The Portrait of a Lady would be virtually meaningless, but for the striking episode between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood in the very last pages of the book" (Krook 101). The sexual theme in Campion's film version of James's novel is not meaningless.
Campion not only allow...
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.... 1881. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Jones, Laura, adapt. The Portrait of a Lady. By Henry James. Dir. Jane Campion. Videocassette. PolyGram, 1997.
Nadel, Alan. "The Search for Cinematic Identity and a Good Man: Jane Campion's
Appropriation of James's Portrait." Henry James Review 18.2 (1997): 180-183.
Volpe, Edmond L. "James's Theory of Sex." Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Portrait of a Lady: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Peter Buitenhuis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.
Walton, Priscilla L. "Jane and James Go to the Movies: Post Colonial Portraits of a Lady." Henry James Review 18.2 (1997): 187-190.
Wexman, Virginia Wright. "The Portrait of a Body." Henry James Review 18.2 (1997): 184-186. White, Robert. "Love, Marriage, and Divorce: The Matter of Sexuality in The Portrait of a Lady." Henry James Review 7.2-3 (1986): 59-71.